Friday, October 14, 2016 was not a typical Fall day in West Michigan. For the staff of the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, MI though, it was filled with anticipation at the arrival of legendary golf course designer Arthur Hills.
Hills, who designed the resort’s Thoroughbred Golf Club in 1993, was returning to Michigan to attend a renaming ceremony of this premiere course to the Arthur Hills Thoroughbred Golf Club. The course’s Superintendent, Kenneth Gifford was instrumental in working with Hills & Forest International Golf Course Architects, in bringing the event to fruition. It marked Hills’ first return to the course in many years
Upon checking in, Hills and his son John immediately took to the course. It was sunny and warm, a day which poet James Russell would have described:
“AND what is so rare as a day in Michigan’s October?
Then, if ever, come perfect golf days;”
Hills normally prefers to walk through the game, but given the fact that this course was designed as a riding course, the duo took a cart through the landscaped 400 acres, perhaps giving the elder Hills a chance to reminisce. It may have also given this charming man who possesses a ready smile, an opportunity to reflect on the design of hole number 2, which has been described by Golf Digest as the 3rd most difficult resort hole in the United States. It’s even mentioned in Jeff Barr’s popular book: 1001 Golf Holes You Must Play Before You Die.
Son John Hills scored a 74 on this 72 par course. Arthur Hills’ score will remain a secret, perhaps only to be revealed at the same time as the mysteries of Stonehenge.
A private dinner was held at the resort’s noted Sundance Restaurant, attended by Arthur and John Hills, along with some of the ownership and management of the resort. Norman Halbower, one of the resort’s owners described Arthur Hills as “charming and articulate…”. Halbower went on to relate that Arthur Hills was honored to have the opportunity to visit a course which he considers one of his greatest.
The following morning was the big event, a ribbon cutting for the renaming ceremony was held at the Thoroughbred Golf House. Speakers included Master of Ceremonies Jeff Howell, Norman Halbower, and Arthur Hills. Halbower expressed his excitement and gratitude not only for the course, but also for the honor of it now bearing Arthur Hills’ name. The new sign was unveiled and was followed by a reception for the public.
At the podium, Hills recalled when he first stepped on the property in 1992, adding that he could envision the course at that moment. He noted that the environment created one of the most beautiful courses he has ever designed.
Arthur Hills received his Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Michigan State University, then went on to secure a Bachelor of Science from the University of Michigan. In his famed career, he has designed hundreds of new golf courses, including private, resort, upscale, and public golf courses around the world. Additionally, Arthur Hills’ firm, Hills & Forest International Golf Course Architects, has been involved in the renovation or modification of other renowned courses in preparation for major USGA and PGA Championships.
Hills himself explained his philosophy in an interview with the American Society of Golf Course Architects, stating that he always wants to “…build a course that is natural, that relates very carefully to the land…always keeping in mind the strategy of the game and the elements that provide beauty in a golf course — textures and colors, shadowing and framing”.
An environmental leader, Hills is quoted on the company’s website (http://www.hillsforrest.com/home.aspx) as saying: “From the beginning, Hills & Forrest has been committed to environmental sensitivity and leadership in our golf course designs. The challenge is to make an impact on golfers and not the environment.”
Arthur Hills’ visit to the Double JJ Resort created many lasting memories for all he encountered. There seems to be an extra spring in the step of staff members. Then, there is also the pride of understanding the special distinction brought to the Double JJ Resort’s newly branded course, the Arthur Hills Thoroughbred Golf Club.